Minecraft Patent Lawsuit: It’s this kind of attitude that gives patent reform a bad name

Markus Persson’s company Mojang, makers of the enormously popular Minecraft game, has been sued for patent infringement by Uniloc USA.

Persson says that software should be free, and that patents are “plain evil.”  He also says that he will “throw piles of money at making sure they don’t get a cent.”

Contrary to Persson’s opinion, software is not free.  Perhaps he should check with Microsoft, IBM, EMC, Oracle, or the hundreds of other companies that create, sell, and support quality software.  None of them thinks software should be free. They all own patents and spend time and effort delivering value to their shareholders based in part on the IP they own.  Good for them!

In the United States, our patent laws arise from our constitution.  Article one, section eight says, “The Congress shall have power… To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  I am both a US citizen and a software author.  I have a right to protect my work just like any other author.  When my work involves invention, I have a right to protect my invention just like any other inventor.  Uniloc has these same rights.  Throwing money around doesn’t get you rights in the US, the law does.

It should be noted that Persson’s company, Mojang, also sells software.  The Minecraft game, for example, is listed at $26.95 in their store.  He’s good with taking your money for his software, but he is not good with paying for patented software that he incorporates into his games.  Anyone else have a problem with that?

Persson’s company of course, is not based in the US; it is based in Stockholm, Sweden.  Nevertheless, when he sells products in the US he needs to play by our rules. Those rules mean that he too has to pay for software and that he is, in fact, bound by US law.  I don’t know how strong of a case Uniloc USA has or what the appropriate damages might be if Mojanj is found to have infringed. In the case of deliberate infringement of patented technology, however, it’s possible that they may have to pay treble damages.  That might change Persson’s smile.

Sure, there have been issues with software patents, and other kinds of patents as well.  Many talented folks, including under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property David Kappos, have been working hard to resolve those issues and give us all a fair and reliable patent system.  Significant progress has already been made, and as the America Invents Act gets fully implemented over the next couple of years, it will get even better.

Scoffing the law never helps.

Apple Proves U.S. Patent System Actually Works with Samsung Tablet Patent Injunction

Today it was announced that a California federal court has blocked the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the United States. This is a surprise to most observers – myself included.  A preliminary injunction in the patent world is a rarity. Not many have a case strong enough to justify asking, and beyond that, not many are granted even if requested.

Apple has secured one against Samsung in their ongoing legal battle, and it will halt the sale of the Galaxy Tab. I am impressed, and I am pleased for Apple and its shareholders. Apple has long lead the way in both technological innovation and patent enforcement.  This is not a coincidence.

Apple has created an entire new market with the iPad, and they have managed to become a viable threat to the PC industry as a whole. If any company has a responsibility to defend its position, it would be Apple. Clearly they are doing just that, and just as clearly they are being effective on a worldwide basis.

So why are they being called a troll? Apple is as far from a patent troll as any company can be.  They make real products and therefore have a real need for IP protection. Additionally, they have spent millions of dollars to obtain thousands of patents covering the design and function of their products.  They are using the patent system just the way it was designed.

Some have claimed that the patent system stifles innovation.  In this case though, it’s being used to protect and enhance the value of an incredibly innovative company, with a game-changing product.

Oracle v. Google: Are APIs Copyrightable?



For the past few weeks, Google and Oracle have been in court to determine whether or not Google’s Android operating system infringed Oracle’s Java copyrights and patents. Today, the jury rendered a partial verdict favoring Oracle.

Because Google developed a new version of JAVA by reading the published API from Oracle, does that constitute copyright infringement? No, I don’t think so.

First let’s ask: “What is an API?”  Wikipedia defines it as “a specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other.”  That’s not quite accurate though. An API is designed to be used by humans who are writing code that is designed to commentate with other code written by other human beings.  Having an API allows one programmer to work independently of another.  It also allows for one code module to be substituted for another, as long as the API is the same.

Google made use of that fact when they developed Android.  They used a so called ‘clean room approach’ to make sure that the developers only used the API, and did not have reference to the underlying code that implemented the API. In other words, they used the API just the way it was intended to be used. This isn’t the first time that a ‘clean room’ approach has been used in the computer industry.  The API to the IBM PC BIOS was ‘clean room designed’ by Columbia Data Products in June 1982.  That’s what gave us the PC industry.

I still think Google technically won this round; even if there is ‘unfair’ use, it’s not going to be very expensive.

Facebook’s Patent Hunger Games

Facebook is buying patents again.  They are hungry and they move fast.

Last month they picked up 750 patents from IBM.  Yesterday they announced the purchase of another 650 patents from Microsoft. Not just any patents, but the very same patents that Microsoft just bought from AOL.  That’s the same AOL that bought up a company called Netscape in 1998.  Netscape, if you recall, produced the first serious commercial grade browser.

That leaves Facebook, the relative ‘new kid on the block,’ with patents that date from the earliest days of the modern Internet.  They are now well equipped to fight back against Yahoo, patent for patent.

The numbers involved here are staggering.  In its lawsuit filed in February against Facebook, Yahoo asserted 10 patents.  In two months Facebook has gone from having no IP arsenal to having more than a thousand properties. A counter suit is already underway.

In all of this, however, I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that each patent represents an invention and that each invention represents the focused creativity of productive and smart human beings.  While Facebook may have acquired the aggregated work of thousands, each individual invention still counts and Yahoo’s 10 patents still need to be accounted for.

As an independent inventor I find that encouraging.

Twitter’s Business Reality: Not all Intellectual Property is Free



I think that Forbes contributor Michael Kanellos has made some very important points about the reality of Twitter’s new “Innovator’s Patent Agreement” or IPA.  Good for him for not being swept away with the free drinks at happy hour. Twitter’s policy can’t be justified at most companies where a significant portion of net value is in intellectual assets, including patents. Such a company might be in for fewer patent suits, but you can bet the shareholder lawsuit rate would increase. As Talk Points Memo reporter Carl Franzen correctly notes, Twitter doesn’t actually have any patents yet.

What the IPA does not address is the fact that Twitter, like all major web-based businesses, makes use of the technology described in literally thousands of patents every day, with every Tweet. A lot of those are owned by Open Invention Network, where Twitter is a member and therefore has free access. Even with employee approval, Twitter-owned patents could not be used against Linux.  That is good for everyone, including Twitter.

But many more patents Twitter uses may not be covered, and those should be licensed. I would have much more faith in this new initiative if it included some recognition of the business reality that not all intellectual property is free.

Reading Between the Lines of Mayo v. Prometheus

Just one day after the Supreme Court ruling in Mayo v. Prometheus, Associate US Patent Office Commissioner Andrew Hirshfeld published a memorandum to patent examiners providing preliminary guidance.

Although Mayo v. Prometheus applies to far more than just pure software related issues, reading between the lines may bring some clarity to which kinds of software patents may be valid.

Software centered patents should be issued for technologies involved in the creation of other software and the operation of the system. Such technologies are generally in the field of computer science and deal with programing, operations management and other computing tasks.

This is different than patent claims that apply existing software technologies as part of a process.  In that case, the other steps in the process, method or system must support patentability.

I think Director Kappos and his staff are right on the ball with this one. Those who are critical of today’s patent office may just not be paying enough attention.

Facebook’s Stand to Protect User Privacy – Is it Enough?

Facebook has reacted to employers who demand their users’ passwords by threatening to sue them.  Good for Facebook!  The move gives me just a little bit of faith that the company, while depending on access to information to survive, is serious about protecting its users’ individual rights to privacy.

And while this is a step in the right direction, I don’t think they have gone anywhere near far enough.

I would like to see Facebook establish and fund a permanent organization dedicated to defending the privacy of its users. This organization would watch for, and take action against, those who exploit Facebook users in violation of the privacy policy anywhere in the world.  Maintaining privacy is a constant fight and it requires unending vigilance. By its very nature, privacy is always threatened.

What we need is a long term institutional solution. If Facebook does not step up soon then perhaps government should.

Facebook’s New 750 Weapons of War

Patents used to represent inventions and actual advances in one area of technology or another.  They still do, of course, but now they also serve as weapons of war.

Last week, Facebook lined up some new heavy weapons when they purchased 750 patents from IBM.   “They need to have some weapons in their own arsenal,” said Thomas Scott, a lawyer at Goodwin Procter LLP in Washington, in an interview last week, making it clear that Facebook is at war with Yahoo, and weapons are defiantly on the agenda.

IBM is the real story here, quietly becoming one of the biggest war mongers and supplying large caliber weaponry to both Facebook and Google. IBM has long been accumulating patents, and is still making more.  In fact, they received 6,128 patents last year alone.

By focusing on patents in large numbers, IBM has been able to profit from the war while staying above the fight.  They have focused on patents as products, and it’s working.  They manufacture and sell patents, bringing profit directly to the bottom line.

If you are looking for a company that does right by its shareholders with its IP, look no further than IBM.

What’s New with Apple’s New iPad

With the announcement of a new iPad last week, Apple made it clear that it really has left the PC behind.

If you have been following Apple’s recent announcements, then you know that you don’t need your PC to listen to music, update your contacts, get your email, play games, read books or do your taxes. With this announcement, you can add movies to the list, as Apple will now keep all of your movies for you with iCloud.

But the really important thing is the shift from 3G to 4G. That’s the key. Until now, the only way to get your iPad to show its full potential was to connect it to a high speed WiFi network. And for those of us who supply our own WiFi at home, we needed a PC to set up and manage that WiFi network. Not anymore. An iPad that is equipped with 4G operates at speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G, is fully functional…and no WiFi is required.

Welcome to the post PC era.



Yahoo Takes Aim At Facebook

Is intellectual property important in today’s world? You bet it is, and the folks over at Yahoo know it. They recently issued a statement reminding Facebook, and the rest of us, just how important their patents really are.

It’s important to note that Yahoo was one of the first Internet companies when they were founded in 1994. Since then they have accumulated more than 1,000 patents. Someone must have told them early on that they were in a new and important industry.

Yahoo is also taking some criticism over their desire to “extract” money from Facebook for use of their inventions. The Yahoo shareholders should expect, and perhaps demand, that Yahoo make extensive use of its early stature on the Internet. Yahoo’s portfolio, after all, has already earned them more than $1.3 billion in just what they got from Google.

My bet is that one day Facebook will be a patent force of its own. They already own 11 issued patents in the U.S., and have more than 20 published applications. They have more than 50 applications worldwide.

Clearly, patents are important. Facebook is just getting started.